Speaking with one voice: building accord.

“If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to go far, walk together.” – African Proverb

“We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Hatred is so much easier than reconciliation; no sacrifices or compromises are required.” – Lawrence Wright[1]

An infinitesimal fraction of the world’s seven billion people – perhaps an infinitesimal fraction of our much smaller community itself – may have noticed a long hiatus between recent posts here on LOTRW. In part[2] this pause stemmed from a promise made in the LOTRW post of August 20: “the weightier matter of actually building consensus [is] to be discussed in the next post.” Simply put, it turned out to be a bit more difficult to distill a few thoughts on this than I’d anticipated.

Let’s review. “Speaking with one voice” is often promoted within the realm of political advocacy. The logic behind the idea is that if this or that community of interest or practice, comprising, say, public health professionals, or retired persons, or corn growers, or – closer to home, those providing Earth observations, science, and services – speaks with one voice, then political leaders at federal, state, and local levels will either be encouraged or (even better, say some) forced to listen. If instead such communities are less communal, if their members hold a diversity of contested views, then elected leaders feel free to ignore the resulting babble and take their attention and energies elsewhere.

So far, so good. The problem arises when the desire to speak with one voice prompts some to try a shortcut. They may either try to speak with a simple majority voice, ignoring any minority opinions extant. Alternatively, a small group may simply misrepresent themselves as “speaking on behalf of” or otherwise embodying the views of some larger constituency that is in fact internally conflicted or divided or has differing views.

Previous LOTRW posts have argued that to speak with one voice it helps to be of one accord, and that it’s also sometimes possible to identify previously existing but unsuspected accord. But truly building accord – getting from initial difference of opinion or even violent disagreement to true consensus – takes some work. To accomplish that work usually requires that all parties share some larger common value or goal, or destiny.

The older wisdom was clear. For instance, at the time of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin motivated his disputatious hearers to reach agreement by reminding them they were all in it together – whether they succeeded or failed, they would share a common fate.

We can go back even further in time: the African proverb reminds us that the key to sustainability, a value that most 21st century thinkers would claim they hold dear, is to build, and then remain in, accord. And for the centuries during which divorce wasn’t really an option, couples would reach a range of accommodations[3].

In recent decades, however, the trend has been to factionalize, to polarize, to splinter. We see this in U.S. politics. In the recent Scottish independence referendum. In failed marriages. In media coverage of these issues and myriad more. Along the way, we’ve often found it expedient to justify such splits on the basis of principle rather than mere self-interest. In divorce courts, the grounds most often cited are “irreconcilable differences.” Lawrence Wright suggests similar logic underlies enduring Middle East problems. In like manner, we’ve elevated our debates over healthcare, jobs, education, foreign policy, the environment, and much more to this level, jettisoning any ambition of problem-solving in favor of self-righteous stands.

When it comes to living on the real world, we would do well to walk according to Franklin and the ancient African wisdom. Our individual destinies are inextricably intertwined with one another, whether with respect to wealth or poverty, good health or illness (yes, including Ebola), resilience to hazards or vulnerability, peace or war. When I see my interests as the same as your interests, and you see me in the same light, we’re one step down the road to building accord.

A closing thought – think of it as lying somewhere between a conjecture to be proved or disproved by events, and a conditional forecast:

If we make it our common goal to be more collaborative, more willing to accommodate, more in community with one another, we might become (1) more effective in our use of natural resources, (2) more resilient to hazards, and (3) better stewards of the environment as a collateral benefit.

But if instead we attempt to realize these three goals while remaining as contentious as we are today, we’ll likely fail on all fronts.

Just saying.

[1] From his new book, Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David.

[2] There were other contributors to this pause, including a succession of family matters and my own desire to reevaluate the goals and purposes of this blog before moving forward. Perhaps more about the latter in future posts.

[3] Full disclosure; I’m divorced and remarried myself, for more than 38 years now.

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